Last Halloween, I was challenged to write a scary story. So I wrote about the most horrible thing I could imagine. It’s not “creatures popping out of the dark, make you scream, run, and twist your ankle” scary. It’s horrible explicit gore. But not physical gore. It’s emotional, existential gore. It’s like a pompous French film version of Saw. It’s a story about fear. Please try to enjoy “A Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man.”
John Ludd died accidentally on October 18th, 2011. He is survived by his parents and some friends. I guess. When reached for comment, his parents simply sighed. John Ludd had no spouse or partner to contact. He also had no children. He didn’t even have pets.
I guess it’s safe to say John Ludd is survived, begrudgingly, by his parents and the not insubstantial amount of mold growing in his kitchen.
And, of course, his friends. If you could combine the hundreds of people John knew, taking bits and pieces of all them, they would form one or two actual close friends. I, myself, am writing this obituary because you can only play hot potato for so long before that tuber starts to cool down and you have no choice but to say yes.
Don’t get me wrong, John was a nice, fun guy. He was interesting to observe in exactly the same way a black hole is: from far enough away that you don’t risk getting sucked into the void.
But here I go.
John Ludd was a novelist. He was cooking up a great American novel in his head. But there seemed to be an unfortunate blockage between his head and his fingers because, to my knowledge, not a single word of that novel exists in the corporeal world.
John spent his final days on his smartphone playing a game called Words With Friends. Words With Friends should be called A Barely Legal Rip-Off Of Scrabble With Strangers From The Internet. Of course, that’s not quite as appealing. But then honesty never is.
John held a string of crappy office jobs. He would immerse himself in petty office politics—who got to take a longer break, whose key card allowed them to swipe into the slightly nicer bathroom, how come someone threw out his week old frozen pizza leftovers after only giving him three written warnings but no verbal warnings, and on and on.
It was almost as if he needed to cram pointless crap in his head to make sure the great novel simmering in there never had a chance to come to a full boil.
Still, John was not without his accomplishments. He once scored over 120 points in Words With Friends. Even more impressively, he did this by spelling the word “Jazz.” It must be noted, the game only provides one “Z.” So John, in a display of patience and planning rarely seen in his life, had to hold on to the high point letters of “J” and “Z” until a blank tile came up that he could transform into a second “Z.” Luckily, John immediately took a screen capture of the game or this momentous achievement in his life would be lost to the mists of time.
I knew John, as almost everyone did, as that mildly entertaining guy who hung out at the kind of depressing bar that had a really good happy hour deal on Miller High Life. I would call John a bar fly, but comparing him to a weaving darting creature like a fly would not communicate the anchor like weight with which he sat at the bar. John was a bar hippo.
John had an uncanny ability to know exactly how other people should fix their lives with absolutely no ability to apply the same ideas to his own. He would dole out advice like “remember to keep things in perspective” and “just be the best you you can be,” not to mention rhetorical winners like, “Are you afraid to be fearless?”
Sometimes, after a particularly long rant, listeners would comment, “You should write that down, you could use it for your novel.” To which John would reply, “You’re right. Another pitcher sounds like a great idea,” and launch into yet another cheap beer infused tirade about the mysteries of the universe.
Alas, in my humble opinion, life is like a “life is like” analogy made at a bar late at night. It only makes sense to people who are drunk.
John always said he wanted to die in an interesting, flamboyant manner. And, well, there’s no way to sugar coat it, he failed at that, too.
John died as he lived. Just fucking sitting there. There was a slow but deadly carbon monoxide leak in his apartment building. Everyone else got out as their alarms alerted them to a problem. Not only had John removed the batteries from his alarm, he had earbuds in and his iPod set to maximum volume. As far as we can tell, the last thing he heard or experienced was Led Zeppelin III. Which isn’t even a particularly good album.
John did not believe in the afterlife. Which should be a comfort to his atheist friends, I guess. And god knows, atheists could use some comfort. After all, atheists are, by definition, cheated out of the opportunity to gloat. When you die and stop existing there’s really no opportunity to say, “I told you so.”
To be perfectly honest, I used to be an atheist. But after John died, I just can’t. I mean, the man did nothing. It’s frankly amazing that I have so much to say about someone who did so little. I want there to be an afterlife, so John can DO SOMETHING.
Screw the great American novel! Write a cookbook, a haiku, carve a dirty limerick on the back of whatever tablets god’s cooking up for us in the next century. Just make a fucking impression.
In conclusion, John Ludd was a novelist.
He had a great novel.
In his head.
He once tried to shotgun a beer out of a glass bottle.
There will probably be a small, informal memorial service at the bar during happy hour. Maybe we’ll scratch his name on his favorite stool. And we’ll share memories.
One last memory before I go. John often talked about what he would do after his novel was published and he made a bunch of money. He described this moment as “when his ship comes in.” It always struck me as a pretty depressing turn of phrase for someone who lives in the middle of the land-locked Midwest. But in all fairness, I think a lot of us are waiting for our ships to come in.
Allow me to close by sharing my new personal motto. A motto that is, at the very least, co-written with John Ludd.
If all I intend to do with my life is wait for my ship to come in, the least I can do is move a little closer to the fucking ocean.